Probiotics: Appropriate For Infants And Children
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | February 10, 2004

One of the questions asked most frequently at Better Life Unlimited is which supplements are appropriate for babies and when can they start to take them? The use of any dietary supplements for infants should be discussed with your pediatrician, but some recent research suggests an important topic for discussion. The research concerns the use of probiotics in infants to reduce the occurrence of asthma, allergies, and skin disorders.

Probiotics, such as acidophilus and bifidus, are healthy bacteria that reside in the large intestine; they complete the breakdown of food that begins in the stomach. We get them from the foods we eat, but they can be dramatically reduced when we take antibiotics. That's why regular use of probiotics can be beneficial to overall health. Because of recent research, the best time to begin use of probiotics may be before birth.

Probiotics for Fetuses and Infants
Researchers in Finland examined the effect of probiotics on the development of asthma, allergies, and atopic eczema in infants (1). In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, they gave probiotics to pregnant woman with a family history of those conditions and then to the infants for six months after birth. After two years, the infants who took the probiotics had half the rate of atopic eczema than those infants who did not; there were not enough cases of allergies or asthma to determine effectiveness. In a follow-up study, the researchers examined the same children at four years and found the benefit continued through the first four years of life (2).

Probiotics for Older Children
The use of probiotics doesn't benefit only infants. In another study, researchers gave a six-week course of probiotics to children ranging from 1-13 years of age (3). More than half the subjects had an improvement in eczema, while only 15% of the placebo group saw an improvement.

Probiotics for Food Allergies
In a recent article, Vanderhoof and Young reviewed the use of probiotics to reduce gastrointestinal food allergies (4). Some food allergies may manifest themselves only in the gut early in life but may later lead to systemic allergic reactions that cause respiratory responses, including asthma. The use of probiotics in infants may be beneficial to reduce the incidence of allergies and asthma later in life. Probiotics may be commonly used in the future to reduce the incidence of food allergies, and while it will benefit people of all ages, the critical time for beginning to use probiotics may be in infancy or before birth.

The use of probiotics appears to be safe for children of all ages and has some benefit in reducing the severity of certain skin conditions and allergies. Discuss the use of probiotics for your child with your pediatrician. In fact, the best time to begin probiotics may be during pregnancy, so a discussion with your obstetrician may be a good place to start. It's never too early to ensure good nutrition.

References:

  1. Kalliomaki M., et al. Probiotics in primary prevention of atopic disease: a randomised placebo-controlled trial. Lancet. 2001; 357(9262):1076-9.

  2. Kalliomaki M., et al. Probiotics and prevention of atopic disease: 4-year follow-up of a randomised placebo-controlled trial. Lancet. 2003; 361(9372): 1869-71.

  3. Rosenfeldt V., et al. Effect of probiotic Lactobacillus strains in children with atopic dermatitis. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2003;111(2):389-95.

  4. Vanderhoof JA, Young RJ. Role of probiotics in the management of patients with food allergy. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2003;90 (6 Suppl 3):99-103.
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